Steph Wood is the Children & Family Ministry Coach for the Upper South Baptist Association and is part of Ilam Baptist Church. She interviews Sean Pawson, Pastor of Ilam Baptist Church, about bringing worship services out into God’s creation. This interview is reproduced from the Baptist Children & Family Ministry eConnect newsletter.

What is some of the thinking behind having outdoor services at Ilam Baptist? 

The thinking behind outdoor services was not just to be different. It was born out of an awareness that our church congregation has a high proportion of people who love the outdoors and connect with God in nature/creation in a variety of ways. The theological framework is based on a theology of creation, seeing humans as created beings who are connected to creation and other creatures, seeing the Word as the one who sustains our world and seeing all creation as God’s temple, so recognising His presence in creation (Genesis 1 &2, Psalm 139, Acts 17, Psalm 8). Our staff team had conversations and planning around holding one outdoor service per season in various locations/environments that had some familiarity for people. The idea was to create opportunities to gather in the grand outdoor cathedral and engage in a worship service in that space. 

Can you tell us a bit about the outdoor services that Ilam Baptist have tried? 

For Matariki, we held an early-morning Winter service (prior to sunrise). This was in the Port Hills, with a view of the eastern horizon. There was the opportunity for some star observation before the sun rose. People wrapped up warmly for Winter. There was a recognition of mana whenua, in keeping with our desire to authentically embrace our treaty journey. We shared waiata, karakia and mihi to mana whenua. Afterwards, we shared kai together - a pancake breakfast. 

Port Hills, Christchurch.

On New Year’s Eve, we had an evening gathering at Victoria Park. This was a Summer gathering, with a view of both horizons visible. We had a time of reflection- looking back, giving thanks, and looking forward to the New Year to dream. There was time to share our reflections over a picnic tea. 

What did you plan for an Easter morning service this year? 

We planned a morning service at a beach location, with a beach barbeque. For some people, the beach is their outdoor happy space, and views of seascapes are a connecting point for people in the outdoor world. This location is a shift of focus from the environments we explored previously. 

What do you see as some of the benefits of outdoor services for all age groups? 

All of us have certain environments where we have enhanced ability to connect. A high proportion of our congregation experience a sense of connectedness with God, self and others, which is nurtured and strengthened in outdoor environments. Our observation is that people are animated, engaged, present and energised when worshipping in the outdoors. 

What are some things to be aware of for other churches wanting to try outdoor services? 

Think about the logistics and choose accessible environments so that as many of the congregation as possible can be involved- think of a location that is accessible for the less bodily able. It is important to have health and safety planning in place (RAMS forms, first aiders and advising people to wear appropriate clothing for the weather). You will also need the ability to pivot and embrace variables. For example, have a plan B that still allows people to experience the environment to some degree in the case of wet weather. Try and choose locations that resonate with those in your community. It is good to include sharing kai, so consider how you can include this element.


Photos: Supplied by Sean Pawson

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